Sober Men and True

"Sober Men and True"

Since we were just speaking of Western songs, what about the ones they actually sang in the West? This is an occasion to mention another great character of old Tombstone.

Only a few of Tombstone's 4,000 residents were interested in attending church, which was usually held in a tent where the sound of honky-tonk pianos coming from the nearby saloons often drowned out the minister's voice.

All of this changed on January 28, 1882 (just three months after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral), when the Reverend Endicott Peabody arrived in town.... He weighed around 200 pounds, enjoyed boxing and baseball, and worked out every day. As one contemporary said, "He had muscles of iron."

The Episcopal women had been trying to raise money for the church building fund by holding raffles, but progress was slow. The Reverend Peabody, who was not one to be easily intimidated, decided to solicit donations on both sides of Tombstone's "dead line."

He walked into a hotel casino, ambled up to a high-stakes poker game, introduced himself, and asked for a donation for the church. One player handed over $150 in chips— and promptly told everyone else to do the same. The local musical society put on the opera H.M.S. Pinafore and gave the proceeds to the church fund.
He went on, back east, to educate a boy named Franklin Roosevelt. In 1882, however -- a scant few months after the Gunfight at the OK Corral, and while the Earps were still waging war against the forces of the outlaws, the Democratic party and the county government -- he convinced saloons and gamesmen to fund a church, and partially with opera.

Here (at 4:18), in that particular opera, we find the sailors in that opera about to be inspected by the First Lord of the Admiralty and hoping that they will be found "sober men and true."

Which, of course, brings us to Afghanistan.
After a Nato airstrike killed as many as 125 people last week, General Stanley McChrystal was keen to get the situation under control — fast.

When he tried to contact his underlings to find out what had happened, however, he found, to his fury, that many of them were either drunk or too hungover to respond.
The article asserts two things I know from personal experience: the Americans are banned from drinking under any circumstances, and the joke is that ISAF stands for "I Saw Americans Fight."

I have never been a fan of General Order #1, having lived under it twice. If anything can justify it, though, it's German troops who give delayed and hung-over reports "that it was too dangerous to visit the blast site, four miles outside their camp, because they might get shot at." Were he here, I'll bet the Reverend Mr. Peabody would have some good words to say on the subject.

Stray Western Winds

Stray Western Winds:

It's been a while since we had such music as in the last post; as it'd been a while since we had horse pictures. Other things have occupied my mind, but that doesn't mean the old beauty has faded.

Here are a few, that perhaps you have not heard in a while; or, perhaps, have not heard at all.

"Remember you the butterfly..."? And so do I.

Yeah, that's a different one, in spite of the similar graphic. Johnny Western is largely forgotten these days; but he did the Ballad of Paladin.

And a later piece:

Road to Kaintuck

Road to Kaintuck:

Some lovely ladies sing the old Johnny Cash classic:

But perhaps you've forgotten the original:

From the old days, when Kentucky was the Western Frontier, and the 'dark and bloody ground.' Not like today, when the whole world is ready to be.

Mainstreaming Nonsense

Mainstreaming Nonsense:

I've been trying to decide what to say about this essay on intelligence and education among conservatives. I value both qualities, certainly. I ought to want to endorse a call to them. And yet... what value is there in denouncing "Joe the Plumber," simply because he wasn't a genius? He never said he was a genius. He said he wanted to work hard and build his fortune, and he didn't care for the idea that then-candidate Obama wanted to "spread the wealth around."

Well? Shouldn't he be able to say that? If he was right about nothing else in his life, wasn't he right about that?

John McCain knew he was:

The essay with which we began bothers me still more as I see Ed Morrissey's piece today:

With the resignation of Van Jones for his 9/11 Truther flirtations (his version) or outright advocacy (which the evidence indicates) and the humiliation of the traditional media deliberately leaving themselves and their consumers behind the New Media on the story, the reaction will come, but not soon. Instead, we can expect the media to hold Republicans to the standards the conservative punditry imposed on Van Jones, and to be a lot more aggressive about it than they were with Jones himself.

What exactly does that mean? In the next Republican administration, we can expect a great deal of scrutiny for Presidential advisers. For one thing, it means that no one who ever expressed public support for Birthers to get the benefit of the doubt. The two conspiracy theories are different, but they both are entirely speculative and imagine dark conspiracies at the highest orbits of power, and neither have any actual direct evidence for support.
I have no beef for the Birthers, who have managed to interest me twice: once, when a friend sent me what he misunderstood and represented to me as a Federal court order stating that Obama had lost his citizenship; and again when the argument was laid out in its full form. It was on this second occasion that I realized how unjust the argument was: for it to hold, you have to agree to endorse the idea that an American citizen who is a woman cannot pass her citizenship to her son, if her husband is not also a citizen. Any child of mine should be an American, even if I had married a woman who was no citizen. If the law said otherwise, the law was wrong.

Nevertheless, I don't think I like the idea that membership in a minority position disqualifies you from service. What if you were part of the small cult who believed Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction? You would, in 2002, have been as directly in violation of the conventional wisdom as Birthers or Truthers; in violation of the opinion of intelligence services across the several free nations, and multiple US administrations.

You'd also have been right -- against the odds and all reasonable interpretations of the evidence, to be sure. Right, nonetheless. If by some circumstance we had not gone into Iraq in 2003, we would not now know that you were right. It would be hard to imagine that you could be.

"Fringe" movements do sometimes get things right that the majority cannot imagine to be true. This is an exercise in humility: to admit not only that we are not as wise as we think, that we might be wrong, but that most of us could be wrong, that almost all of us could be wrong, that all of us could be.

We could be. Even most of us. Even all of us. In fact, to me, it seems more likely than not that we are usually all wrong.

"The Veal Pens"

"The Veal Pens":

Do you know what the term means in the modern political context? Why, it means that Obama values liberals for their value as shields. Shields for him, of course; for what else of importance is at stake in this administration?

Rasmussen has been wondering if Obama faces a 2010 primary challenge. Goodness knows he deserves one. I voted for Sen. Clinton in the last primary; I'd be glad to vote for Secretary Clinton in the primary of 2012.

Medieval Economics & Post-scarcity economics

Post-Scarcity Economics & the Middle Ages:

Via Arts & Letters Daily, an interesting but flawed approach to revising economic history. The author is interested in where we are going -- what economics will look like as scarcity becomes less important as a principle, and wealth increases. He is unsatisfied with previous attempts to map that, and looks backward for guidance. That is usually a sound policy.

However, while I found his thoughts interesting, there are several problems he will need to address before we can know to what degree he has said anything truthful and reliable. There are some serious problems, as well as insights:

The economy in which we operate is not a natural system, but a set of rules developed in the Late Middle Ages in order to prevent the unchecked rise of a merchant class that was creating and exchanging value with impunity. This was what we might today call a peer-to-peer economy, and did not depend on central employers or even central currency.

People brought grain in from the fields, had it weighed at a grain store, and left with a receipt — usually stamped into a thin piece of foil. The foil could be torn into smaller pieces and used as currency in town. Each piece represented a specific amount of grain. The money was quite literally earned into existence — and the total amount in circulation reflected the abundance of the crop.

Now the interesting thing about this money is that it lost value over time. The grain store had to be paid, some of the grain was lost to rats and spoilage. So each year, the grain store would reissue the money for any grain that hadn't actually been claimed. This meant that the money was biased towards transactions — towards circulation, rather than hording. People wanted to spend it. And the more money circulates (to a point) the better and more bountiful the economy. Preventative maintenance on machinery, research and development on new windmills and water wheels, was at a high.

Many towns became so prosperous that they invested in long-term projects, like cathedrals. The "Age of Cathedrals" of this pre-Renaissance period was not funded by the Vatican, but by the bottom-up activity of vibrant local economies. The work week got shorter, people got taller, and life expectancy increased. (Were the Late Middle Ages perfect? No — not by any means. I am not in any way calling for a return to the Middle Ages. But an honest appraisal of the economic mechanisms in place before our own is required if we are ever going to contend with the biases of the system we are currently mistaking for the way it has always and must always be.)
I'd like to see some references for all of these claims. Still, assuming for the sake of argument that they are true, they still don't yield his conclusions, which follow:
Feudal lords, early kings, and the aristocracy were not participating in this wealth creation. Their families hadn't created value in centuries, and they needed a mechanism through which to maintain their own stature in the face of a rising middle class. The two ideas they came up with are still with us today in essentially the same form, and have become so embedded in commerce that we mistake them for pre-existing laws of economic activity.

The first innovation was to centralize currency. What better way for the already rich to maintain their wealth than to make money scarce? Monarchs forcibly made abundant local currencies illegal, and required people to exchange value through artificially scarce central currencies, instead. Not only was centrally issued money easier to tax, but it gave central banks an easy way to extract value through debasement (removing gold content). The bias of scarce currency, however, was towards hording. Those with access to the treasury could accrue wealth by lending or investing passively in value creation by others. Prosperity on the periphery quickly diminished as value was drawn toward the center. Within a few decades of the establishment of central currency in France came local poverty, an end to subsistence farming, and the plague. (The economy we now celebrate as the happy result of these Renaissance innovations only took effect after Europe had lost half of its population.)
There are three sizable problems with what he has just said.

1) 'Feudal lords, early kings, etc., did not create wealth.' It's remarkable to me that you would view the trade of locally-issued currency as 'wealth creation,' but not the acivity that allowed that trade to occur without the markets being burned. This claim is somewhat akin to saying that the modern US military is simply a hole into which we pour money. Rather, it guards the physical borders, the trade routes, and particularly the US navy guards the sea routes. The Medievals did the same, and in a fashion at least as critical for the survival of economic activity. Their efforts were quite sophisticated, even early, in the face of threats more immediate to the towns and merchants of the day. (Footnote 1)

Indeed, as we look toward a 'post-scarcity society,' I submit that one of the goods that people will continue to have to pay for is physical security. It is as much a part of the wealth-creation process as anything else: without that security, wealth cannot long exist, let alone can new wealth be created and built.

2) "...and the plague." Woah! The Plague was the central economic event of the period. You don't get to write an article on the subject of economics in the late Middle Ages and simply elide past it as if it were a minor matter. It completely altered the face of society. When it broke out, governments that did not understand its cause attempted all manner of new controls on trade in the hope of limiting its spread. Such commerce across great distances had boomed during in the High Middle Ages, after a sharp decline following the collapse of Rome's ability to provide security in the West. That's something an essay of this sort ought to consider, since it intends to consider the very issue of how trade restrictions in the Middle Ages affected economic growth.

3) "The first innovation was to centralize currency. What better way for the already rich to maintain their wealth than to make money scarce?"

In the Plague's aftermath, too, there was a fairly impressive increase in social mobility across Europe. The sharp decrease in the supply of labor meant that the agricultural laborer -- formerly a minor player as an individual -- had a new power to negotiate his status. But while his status increased along with his wages, the wage increase was undercut by other forces:
Grave mortality ensured that the European supply of currency in gold and silver increased on a per—capita basis, which in turned unleashed substantial inflation in prices that did not subside in England until the mid—1370s and even later in many places on the continent. The inflation reduced the purchasing power (real wage) of the wage laborer so significantly that, even with higher cash wages, his earnings either bought him no more or often substantially less than before the magna pestilencia (Munro, 2003; Aberth, 2001).
Before you simply paint the currency policy of the Middle Ages as an attempt to control the merchants, it's worth considering how powerful these forces were. Most likely, in the face of the chaos being caused by the Black Death, the issue of keeping merchants in their place was hardly at the forefront of anyone's thought process. "Making money scarce" was of benefit to the workers in the fields, as much as it was to any king or nobleman.

Besides which, I'm deeply suspicious of the claim that 'centralizing currency' was an innovation of the period. The first coins in Britain date to the first century BC, before the Romans took control of the island. Centralized currency was the law of the land during the Anglo-Saxon period:
Aethelstan (925-39) continued the fight against the Danes and the title AETIIELSTAN REX TOTIVS BRITANNIE is to be found on some of his later coins. It was Aethelstan who decreed at a Witanagemot at Grately in 928, that every burgh or town should have a mint with from one to eight moneyers depending on its importance, thus providing that a single coinage should be current throughout the country, and that the dies were to be engraved in London. Thus eight moneyers were appointed to London, seven to Canterbury, six to Winchester, etc. At Grately, too, it was decreed that the penalty for forgery should be the loss of a hand which was then to be nailed up in the smithy or, if the accused desired to clear himself of the charge, the hand that struck the coin should be submitted to `the ordeal of the hot iron'.
So, why should I believe that this was an anti-merchant policy of the Late Middle Ages? I'd like to see some additional evidence and argument before I accept any part of that claim.

There's a great deal more to the essay, and some of it is really quite valuable. I don't mean to dismiss or demean the argument. However, I think that a number of the claims require greater investigation by the author, and some of them ought to be reconsidered entirely. That, though, is what debate is for: to challenge ideas, and thereby improve them.

Footnote 1. For a very good example of a response to Viking piracy and sea-based invasion, see Nicholas Hooper, "Some Observations on the Navy in Late Anglo-Saxon England," Anglo-Norman Warfare, ed. Matthew Strickland (Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1992).


Where Can You Go From President?

I suppose we should have seen this coming. The man's been on the job for seven months; his record indicates he should start scoping for his next promotion about now. After all, he'd been in the US Senate about this long before he started preparing to run for President; and in the Illinois State Senate about this long before he started his (failed) run for the US House of Representatives; and so on back through his career.

It's time to move on up. But where do you go from President?

President Obama has decided to go to the one place where merit bears no relationship to adulation: the United Nations. On September 24, the president will take the unprecedented step of presiding over a meeting of the UN Security Council.

No American president has ever attempted to acquire the image of King of the Universe by officiating at a meeting of the UN’s highest body. But Obama apparently believes that being flanked by council-member heads of state like Col. Moammar Qaddafi — who is expected to be seated five seats to Obama’s right — will cast a sufficiently blinding spell on the American taxpayer....
What he wants to discuss is "nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament broadly" with no mention of "specific countries." Iran and North Korea, then, can rest easy. (Can we? Anyone want to give odds that he'll promise to stand down some US nuclear forces as a goodwill gesture? How many of them?)

Some say this is a bid to become the next Secretary General of the United Nations. Why wait? I'm ready to support him for the office immediately.



The last post points to the good things available in life, this time of year. It's terrible to think that those pleasures will be lost to this young man, or that this Marine's death is being used to profit the Associated Press. Both Carrie and Cassandra have reactions to the latter. So does BlackFive, where I also blog.

I'd like to add that I'd just like not to hear any more about how awful it is that the military reviews journalist past performance in deciding whether or not to embed them. The two examples Stars & Stripes came up with were for OPSEC violations and publication of classified material. Here's another damn good reason that someone should be looking into every reporter who wants to come into theater.

I think Greyhawk's objection was that contractors shouldn't be doing it, soldiers should be; but that's a small matter. The force size is limited by Congress, and the size of the deployment by orders. It may be that they decided they needed their soldiers elsewhere, and so the slot that might have been used to provide the PAO with an assistant was contracted out instead. The point is, journalists ought to be evaluated before they are given access like this. If they don't respect the lives of the soldiers or Marines -- whether by putting their lives at risk through OPSEC violations, or by ghoulish reporting -- they should not be allowed to be there.

Late Summer:

It is that wonderful time of the year when a man can get both good October beer, and fresh peppers from his garden. Here is yesterday's harvest of cayenne:

The weather offers plenty of warm sun for frolicking:

And there is the occasional downpour:

Have a fine weekend.

A Ruling

A Ruling:

You might like to know that Miss Manners (whose column is listed under the "Admired Voices" section of the sidebar) has issued a ruling on the subject of whether Sen. Boxer was insulted when Brigadier General Michael Walsh called her "ma'am."

Miss Manners assures you that "ma'am" is, like its masculine equivalent, "sir," a highly respectful form suitable for addressing any female, including a president, a monarch and your own mother.
All of us familiar with military protocol knew that no insult was, or could be, intended with such a term. Miss Manner's ruling makes it official for the civilian side of the country -- at least, that part of it that cares about etiquette and courtesy.

Ethics & Wisdom:

Painless Cattle:

Popular Science asks, "Is it ethical to engineer delicious cows that feel no pain?" The answer is that of course it is; humanity has willfully modified animals through selective breeding and other means for all of recorded history. We've done this chiefly for our own purposes, but if we wished to do it for the benefit of the animal, there's certainly no reason we should not.

Now, my counter question: regardless of whether it is ethical, is it wise? These things weigh about a thousand pounds, give or take a few hundred for breed or sex. They're hard enough to control as it is. What are you going to do when they feel no pain?

Confed Yankee Wins

A Victory:

In the competition to create the best headline for this story, the clear and honorable victor is Confederate Yankee.


The Peasants are Revolting:

The WSJ has an article that notes consistent voter anger worldwide:

When the political world arrives at the point where even the Japanese rise up to toss a party from office after almost 54 years in power, it's time to see something's happening here, Mr. Jones.... The vote in somnolent Japan suggests that electorates are casting a global no-confidence vote in their leaderships. The same weekend the Japanese unloaded the Liberal Democratic Party, German voters withdrew Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling majorities in the state legislatures of Thuringia and Saarland.

In the U.S., political handicappers are predicting heavy Democratic losses in the House next November. This just four years after ending GOP control of Congress in the 2006 elections and two years after sweeping into office Barack Obama and his Democratic partners.

Congress's approval rating remains stuck around 30%.... Some search for an ideological trend toward the left or right in these votes, but the only evident trend is to strike out at whichever blob is currently in power. Even as Americans turned over their country to liberal Democrats, opinion polls showed that the British people were turning toward the Conservatives for relief from listless Labour.
So... why?

The WSJ, unsurprisingly, declares that it's because the government isn't acting like they feel a proper government should: it spends up vast national debts, it follows by raising taxes, it refuses to offer incentives to businesses to grow, and it structures laws and systems so that its members can't be held accountable for its bad behavior except by voters.

Thus, the only thing voters can do is toss people out at every opportunity.

Just as unsurprisingly, I would add that the problem is the governments consistently move to increase thier own power at the peoples' loss, and refuse to be controlled by any obvious principle or authority. In America, the Constitution is so widely ignored that it's almost enough to make one despair. The government functions as effectively unlimited in scale and scope, with nothing obviously beyond its power. Every year, we look with interest to see if SCOTUS will lop off one or another of the growing limbs of control and authority, and sometimes it does, as in Heller; and some times it does not, as in Kelo. Even when it does, though, while trimming one vine, fifty are left to flower and grow.

Am I right? Is the Journal? Are we both? Or is it something else, less visible to us because we aren't sure where to look for it?


Parenting and Mrs. Palin:

I'm not particularly interested in this story; I read it only because I had a vague notion that I ought to know the name "Levi Johnston," but couldn't remember why. I'm not at all interested in the parts that have drawn the most commentary in the blogosphere.

However, I was intrigued by this part:

The Palin house was much different from what many people expect of a normal family, even before she was nominated for vice president. There wasn’t much parenting in that house. Sarah doesn’t cook, Todd doesn’t cook—the kids would do it all themselves: cook, clean, do the laundry, and get ready for school. Most of the time Bristol would help her youngest sister with her homework, and I’d barbecue chicken or steak on the grill.
I'll excuse the fellow, on grounds of his youth, for not recognizing what he was looking at. Far from being an example of "not much parenting," this is an example of excellence in parenting.

You mean to tell me that, by the late teens, the children are pitching in to such a degree that all the household chores are done? Cooking, cleaning, preparation for school, homework? All of it?

The take-away here is that, far from being unready for motherhood, Bristol Palin was perfectly ready for it. She had learned how to take responsibility, not only for herself, but for those of her family who were younger or weaker or in need of help. She knew how to be depended upon, to carry her own weight, and to help others learn to carry theirs. She knew how to cook and run a household. She was absolutely ready to enter the world of adult life, whether as a wife and homemaker, or in any other capacity normally open to someone of her age: that kind of self-discipline and order will let her tackle any set of problems.

I've known many at the age of thirty-five who weren't ready to take full responsibility for themselves, let alone to have others depend on them. I've known many of any age who never got that family is about taking care of each other, rather than providing you with a never-ending set of loans and benefits.

Raising kids so well as that would be quite an achievement all on its own. Managing a successful business in addition? A great deal of pride should be taken in that. Being a successful governor in addition to all that? Good gracious.

Practical Philosophy

Practical Philosophy & the Constitution:

Ms. Megan McArdle is quite right to say that ethics -- which is the type of philosophy she and her interlocutor are practicing here -- ought to have some real-world relevance. The old phrase "hard cases make bad philosophy" (which also exists: "hard cases make bad law") is true, and it's true for just the reason she brings up here. The amateur (or very clever) philosopher will simply abstract until they've removed all the negatives from whatever they wanted to prove; or until they've removed all the positives from what they wanted to disprove. This is a form of sophistry.

The argument being put foward is, 'So, if we could provide perfect health care to all people at a low cost, shouldn't we do so?' The concept is that, once you endorse the principle that you should do so in a perfect case, we need only to slowly expand to engulf all the imperfections.

Yet wait: Even in that perfect case, I have a practical objection. Listen to the principles Ms. McArdle lists in her counterargument:

■We have some obligations to future generations, if not necessarily future individuals within those generations. Extreme thought experiment to clarify the principle: we cannot strip mine the earth and leave them to die.
■People have no obligation to perform labor for others. I may not force a surgeon to save my mother at gunpoint. (To be sure, I might. But society would justly punish me for doing so.)
■States have an absolute right to tax their citizens to provide public goods, i.e. goods that are broadly beneficial but non-excludable. They have a right to enact other laws, such as public health rules, to achieve similar ends. Both rights are constrained by the basic rights of their citizens. You may perhaps quarantine Typhoid Mary. You may not shoot her.

■Societies have a right to organize themselves to improve the justice of their income distribution. That organization may include taxation. It may also include property rights, or outlawing behavior like blackmail.
■Property rights did not spring full-blown from the head of Zeus into a natural right. They're contingent, evolving arrangements that happen to work really, really well for encouraging many sorts of beneficial economic activity.

■Just income distribution is not just a matter of relative position, but also of how the income is acquired, and absolute need. I do not have any moral claim whatsoever on a dime of Warren Buffett's fortune, because I have a perfectly adequate lifestyle. I still wouldn't have any claim on his fortune if he suddenly got 100 times richer, provided that he acquired that money through means that we regard as licit.

■Societies should strive to organize themselves so that everyone in the society can, if they desire, acquire the means to provide their basic needs.

■There is no per-se right to health care, since "health care" is not a thing, but a shifting collection of goods and services with amorphous boundaries. Health care is a subset of the modern "basic needs" package, and therefore falls under broader distributional justice claims. No matter what your distributional justice intuitions are, it would be perfectly acceptable, if impractical, to give very sick people the cash required to treat their cancer, and let them blow it on a trip around the world.

■No one should have to work more hours for the state than for themselves. This should inform our approach to taxation.

■Taxation should strive to equalize the personal cost of taxation among all members of society, not the dollar amount or the percentage of income. That is, it is appropriate for Warren Buffet to pay a higher percentage of his income in taxes for shared public goods than I do, because the personal cost of taking 25% of his income is much lower than the personal cost of taking 25% of mine.
■An equal distribution of misery is not a good social goal. When policies to redistribute goods or money result in fewer or poorer quality goods being available, that cost should limit the redistributive impulse.
■If people will not comply with your regime, and their non-compliance may have unpleasant results for themselves or others, this is an important side constraint.

■The government should not interfere in voluntary transactions unless there are significant direct externalities. The fact that you get stressed or unhappy thinking about something does not qualify as a direct negative externality. Nor does the cultural miasma that emanates from these transactions.

■The government certainly should not forbid anyone to purchase something on the grounds that other people are not able to purchase that thing.
Some of those principles are very sound, and others I might argue; but there is something noteworthy missing from them.

What is missing is the Constitution.

The discussion they are having would be a very nice one for a state in some early stage of formation. However, we've had that discussion. The government was allocated certain powers, only. Not one of the Founders ever dreamed that they were endorsing a government that would provide insurance coverage, or provide doctors, or otherwise provide health care to anyone at all -- far from "every citizen" in the country (plus, perhaps, any other persons in the country, legal or illegal).

The Founders provided us with a means for allowing the Federal government to assume sweeping new powers: the Constitutional Amendment process. So, here is a principle missing from the debate that belongs there:

For the Federal government to assume major new powers, that goverment must ask for new authorization for those powers from the People through the amendment process.

"But Grim," you might say, "you know perfectly well that it is impossible to get a Constitutional amendment through such a divided electorate. You're merely attempting to rule that the other side isn't allowed any realistic option for enacting its program."

Not so!

First, the Founders were very well aware of the difficulty of the process they proposed. They were especially aware that it might outright prevent contentious issues from ever becoming Federal law. That was the whole point.

The stability of the government, of the nation, and of the polity all depend on not ramming rapid, massive changes through in the face of severe opposition. Just such behavior had led to civil wars and rebellions across Europe in the period when the Constitution was being written. Two of special moment to the Founders were the English Civil War and the Covenanter movement in Scotland.

That is why the Constitution they wrote requires not only a supermajority of representatives and Senators. It also requires the States to ratify the amendment, each one considering the issue separately in its own space. Without the vote of a supermajority of the States as well as Washington, the Federal government may not assume new powers. It especially may not assume vast new powers touching every citizen in the nation, and every State in the Union.

The amendment process the Founders settled upon was precisely the opposite of the method the Obama administration chose here. They decided to try to pass a law before anyone could even read it, and before the August recess when Congressmembers might have to hear from their constituents about it. Far from asking the States to ratify their approach, they tried to prevent anyone living in the States from having the chance to express an opinion. They would have had Washington insiders decide the issue alone.

Sweeping changes that travel through the legitimate process have to be heard at length, fully argued, and enjoy broad support across the several states as well as within the Federal government itself. That is the way the system is meant to work. It doesn't matter how good your philosophy is: that's the system.

Second, if in fact you could 'provide health care to everyone at minimal cost,' you might well be able to win even the more arduous argument. The problem is, you can't. A substantial number of Americans have lived in countries that have tried, or have traveled in such countries, or have experience with the health care industry, or in one of many other ways become aware of the practical limitations.

Don't tell me, though, that the argument couldn't possibly prevail if it were really true. If the government could actually provide 'perfect health care to all people at low cost,' it would be a very salable idea.

It would sell even through the Amendment process.

What is causing all this revolutionary "water-the-tree-of-liberty" rhetoric at the tea parties is the rank refusal to consider this basic constitutional question. The Federal government wants simply to assume vast new power without asking the States or the People outside of Washington. They may not.

If there is a single philosophical principle that ought to be defended in this debate, that is it. It's not even a question of whether health care is a right or a commodity, whether it's right to want the government to provide it to the citizens or not. The main issue is that they were never given such authority. If the Federal government wants it, it may not simply seize it with no reference to the States or the People. Washington can't do this alone. If they want to make a massive change to the basic nature of the government, they've got to ask for new authority.

The fact that Washington has discovered that it has the power to ignore the Constitution does not make it right. Does everyone remember when George W. Bush, while President, stated that he had Article II power to hold prisoners indefinitely? Remember how badly he was excoriated for that (though the Obama administration appears to agree, now that they are in office)?

Yet at least he made a reasonable attempt to show that the suspension of habeas corpus was rooted in a genuine, spelled-out Constitutional authority of the President's. What is the Constitutional justification for any of this? For the "investment" in General Motors? What limits on the Federal government will Washington recognize?



Block out fifteen minutes and watch this.

Islamic Scarves

The Right to Choose (the Scarf):

Naomi Wolfe has an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (a fine Australian newspaper, that) on the subject of Islamic women who really like to wear their veils and scarves. The article has generated some controversy, but I'd like to explore the concepts she raises because I've heard women in Iraq say exactly the same thing that she has these Moroccan women saying.

Indeed, many Muslim women I spoke with did not feel at all subjugated by the chador or the headscarf. On the contrary, they felt liberated from what they experienced as the intrusive, commodifying, basely sexualising Western gaze. Many women said something like this: "When I wear Western clothes, men stare at me, objectify me, or I am always measuring myself against the standards of models in magazines, which are hard to live up to - and even harder as you get older, not to mention how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. When I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected." This may not be expressed in a traditional Western feminist set of images, but it is a recognisably Western feminist set of feelings.
This is a point that I have heard from Iraqi women, from American women who have had to travel in the Middle East, and from Israeli women who have operated within the Arab world. It harmonizes very nicely with the piece we were discussing lately on the subject of what it is like for foreign women to operate in the Muslim world, which is apparently highly aggressive towards foreign women particularly.

In addition, she's right to say that the feelings are 'recognizably... feminist.' I can think of several women who read this space who have, at times, expressed a sharp desire for a public space in which women are treated without reference to sexuality. Islamic society has achieved a success of a sort there: they do have a public space in which (local rather than foreign, veiled or otherwise scarved) women may operate without being "on display" or judged by their appearance.

One American woman I worked with found that the headscarf was a welcome refuge when working with Muslims. She spoke of the comfort she felt while wearing it, because it seemed to deactivate men's ability to think of her as a sexual creature. She had a freedom, then: when with those whom she wanted to consider her as a potential mate, she could be sexual if she chose; but when with others, she had a retreat.

Phyllis Chesler delivers an excoriation to Ms. Wolfe, however, pointing out that what is "a choice" for her (and for the American women I mention) is not a choice for many Muslim women.
Now that Wolf is no longer the doe-eyed ingenue of yesteryear, she sees the advantage of not being on view at all times. A Westerner, “playing” Muslim-dress up, Wolf claims that hiding in plain view gave her “a novel sense of calm and serenity. I felt, yes, in certain ways, free.” In addition, Wolf believes that the marital sex is hotter when women “cover” and reveal their faces and bodies only to their husbands.

Marabel Morgan lives! In the mid-1970s, Morgan advised wives to greet their husbands at the door wearing sexy clothing and/or transparent saran wrap with only themselves underneath. Her book, Total Woman, sold more than ten million copies. According to Morgan, a Christian, “It’s only when a woman surrenders her life to her husband, reveres and worships him and is willing to serve him, that she becomes really beautiful to him.”

Well, what can I say? Here’s a few things.

Most Muslim girls and women are not given a choice about wearing the chador, burqa, abaya, niqab, jilbab, or hijab (headscarf), and those who resist are beaten, threatened with death, arrested, caned or lashed, jailed, or honor murdered by their own families. Is Wolfe thoroughly unfamiliar with the news coming out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan on these very subjects? Has she forgotten the tragic, fiery deaths of those schoolgirls in Saudi Arabia who, in trying to flee their burning schoolhouse, were improperly veiled and who were beaten back by the all-powerful Saudi Morality Police?
The point is well taken. Ms. Wolfe's approach discusses the issues of the veil as if they were about Westerners being unable to accept an "alien," "Other" approach to sexuality. She writes as if this is what Muslim women really desire, and that the fault is ours for not understanding them. In fact, in very many cases, the various forms of the veil are enforced rigorously: they are not a choice.

Ms. Wolfe is not wrong, however, when speaking of cultures where there is choice. She mentions France, and its war against the hijab, as an example. Here in America, too, women have the freedom to choose if they like.

Women have tended to choose against the veil, or other clothes designed to 'deactivate' their physical beauty, given the choice. USA Today was just describing how even some nuns now wear "street clothes," since Vatican II gave them the choice. Married women in the West once wore veils over their hair as a normal part of their attire, but increasingly rarely since the 1600s.

There is a choice available that makes that much-desired "public space" more readily attainable for women. However, that choice -- for whatever cause -- is unpopular (even with nuns!). You can see from Ms. Wolfe's writing that there is a certain value placed on it by those who still practice the custom. However, as Ms. Chesler points out, given the physical coercion involved, it's hard to say how much of womens' praise of the veil is rationalization of something they couldn't escape if they wanted. For women I've known in the Middle East, it was a choice that was valuable to them; yet only a few of them wanted to be veiled among other Americans.

Was that due to some similar social pressure: not beatings and stonings, but a fear of scorn or disdain? I'm not sure, myself, not being female; but I suspect that it has to do with a desire to be perceived as "normal." In the Muslim world, "normal" wears a veil; in the West, it doesn't. Insisting on wearing one here is a choice that would be accepted, but it would also be a signal that you demand to be treated differently than everyone else. While people would accept that, generally speaking, it would result in you being placed in a special category off to the side, rather than being part of the general society. Many people, and perhaps especially many women, value social interaction to a degree that makes them want to be accepted as widely as possible.

Still, the answer to that is only that there needs to be a movement to make it common enough that it ceases to be unusual. Not, mind you, that I'm advocating such a movement; no more than I'm advocating against such a movement. I'm merely interested in the issue because I've observed it in several places and through several lenses.